Friday, March 23, 2007

Holiday Book Reviews

Well, a few reads to talk about from the holiday/pre-holiday period.
Right before the holiday I was reading Philip Roth's The Human Stain. Another charity shop buy, I bought it because I had read some Roth many years ago and enjoyed it. Once I started reading it I realised that the film had been made recently (I haven't seen it though - I just recall the ads). In brief, it was ok. I am always a bit ambivalent about Roth - lovely prose, enjoyable reading, but it always feels a bit like he is trying to beat me with his message. It also felt very 'constructed' - I was always aware of the writerliness of the book. But a good read. Also, I quite like the cover design. Powells has a synopsis & some brief reviews.

Next up - Sarah Waters' Dickensian 'Fingersmith' (note: this link gives away the plot, which you probably don't want to know if you are going to read this). This was my holiday read, although it didn't last the whole holiday! Mostly due to delays at the airport I think, but also as it was a good yarn. It is clever, without telling you that it is clever. It is also constructed, but in a 'readerly' rather than a 'writerly' way (I don't know if this makes sense, but thats what I think!). It is not a great novel, but it is good. The prose isn't particularly wonderful, but it is period-focused without being a hinderance to reading. The plot is the gem of the book, and really this is a great story at heart. I won't say more than that, for fear of spoiling things, but it is an ideal holdiay read. The limited cast means you can pick it up and put it down regularly without losing who is who. I reckon if you were visiting London, it would be an ideal travel companion! Simon read most of it, and despite his usual verdict ('needs a good edit' - and I tend to agree in this case), he did like the story aspect. I don't think he has finished it, and he probably won't, but not bad for him. The Guardian review is here, plus the Powells synopsis & brief reviews. You can check out the author's website here.

Finally, the end of our holiday coincided with a cold snap in Europe, and two days of heavy rain. We gave up a bit on the last day in Florence - it was Monday, the galleries were mostly closed, we had walked for days on end, and it was cold & nasty. We found a foreign language bookstore, bought Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (again, plot giveaway warning here), a bottle of wine, some cheese & hid out in our hotel room for a few hours. Great stuff.

I read a fair bit of Hemingway when I was 16 and 17 years old. I loved it, but I don't think I got it. This is my first Hemingway in years, and a concession to Simon who declares it the only fiction that he rates. In reality, this was bought for him, but I finished my other book, & couldn't find anything I wanted to pay ridiculous prices for, so I got to read it first! This is spectacular. I don't know why I haven't got back into Hemingway earlier - he is everything I love in a writer. The writing is sparse, clear, and you can see that each sentence has purpose. The writing is pared down to the essence. The story is great - there is no great moral, no metaphore, no mucking around, just a story to read if you wish to do so. There is no compromise to the reader - this feels almost voyeuristic, as though you are intruding on the narrator. Amazing. Watch out for the end. I'm not going to add links for reviews & stuff - check it out with a search if you like, there are millions of people having millions of things to say about this book. My suggestion - just read it and decide for yourself.
So, three very different books. I highly recommend the Hemingway, and this has got me back on the boil for his work.
One of my goals for this year was to get started on a longer term goal of reading more Russian literature, particularly more modern russian stuff. I recently re-read Bulgakov's Master & Margarita, and read Heart of a Dog. Even in the educated city I live in, it is hard to get hold of these things or find somewhere to browse a collection, so if anyone has any recommendations, I would love to hear them!

No comments: